Many think of backsliding as falling into open sin, a life of unrepentant wordliness or virtually departing from the faith. It may be that such, however, are only backsliding from a false profession and making this more apparent. Backsliding also includes falling back from certain truths, principles and standards. But we must be concerned about spiritual backsliding or backsliding in heart (Proverbs 14:14). It is dangerous because it is far more subtle. Failure to go forward and to grow spiritually means to slide back, because there is no standing still.
George Hutcheson gives practical teaching as to how we can identify spiritual backsliding. We need to test whether we are backslidden from what we have had, or might have had in the past or else from what others have attained. The following are some clear tests:
1. Lack of Growth.
Are you growing in grace? You must “beware lest…being led away with the error of the wicked” you “fall from your own stedfastness”. You must rather “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17-18). There is no standing still in the Christian life. If there is no growth in fruit or in the root, there is no progress in sanctification. Lack of growth in putting sin to death and being humbled for your shortcomings, you are certainly someone who is backsliding.
2. Lack of Heart Religion
Many need to test whether religion has transferred from their hearts to their heads. Some who were once full of sap, are now sapless. Those who had powerful impressions on their souls of the life and power of religion now only have bare, tasteless notions and speculations. Those whose progress has halted forget to consider the spiritual condition of their heart and how few close communications they share with God. How tasteless, sapless and lifeless to such are religion and religious duties! They have an understanding of misery and mercy, of sin and a Saviour; but it is like a dream. These are things they can consider without their hearts being moved at all or only very little.
3. Lack of Conscience about Sin
Examine what conscience you have about sin. When saints are in the right condition they walk carefully with continual distrust of themselves. They look back many times with sinking hearts and self-reproof for what they find amiss. This is not simply an occasional consideration, it is their constant concern. But if you are a stranger to walking carefully with God and inward self-reproof and rebukes you are backsliding. The throat of your soul grows wide and gets over guilt without reluctance. You have halted in spiritual things if you do what is wrong and your conscience tells you so but your heart is not grieved. A growing spiritual condition is marked by carefulness in relation to sin and guilt.
4. Lack of Spiritual Diligence.
If you want to examine your spiritual condition, you must consider your diligence carefully. It is the hand of the diligent that makes rich (Proverbs 10:4) “The soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Proverbs 13:4). Some make little effort in the duties of religion for the honour of God and the benefit of their own souls. Instead they spend much of their time in spiritual laziness and worldliness. When these come to do their spiritual accounting they will find they have come to a halt, are withered and in decay.
5. Lack of Encouragement
Even though you may be free of guilt in relation to these things hinted at above, if you are under a spirit of discouragement you cannot make progress. Consider your spiritual condition and see what discouragement you find. Once the duties of religion and closely following Christ were your delight, but now your conscience has become your tormenter. You drive heavily in any task to which you are called. You are like Thomas who followed Christ in a discouraged way. “Let us also go”, he says, “that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Though you continue to maintain your full quota of duties ,your discouragement shows that you have left your first love (the love which once you had or might have had).
The Dangers of Backsliding
Well then, test yourself by these things. What spiritual growth, heart-work and conscience about sin do you have? What about diligence in duty? Do you have discouragement instead of delight? When you have tested yourself in this way, reflect on the evils and dangers of backsliding.
- You are hindered in what is good (Galatians 5:7);
- You lose what you had gained (Galatians 3:4);
- You dishonour God and slander Him as though there were some fault in Him (Jeremiah 2:5 and 31; Micah 6:3);
- You lay stumbling blocks before others;
- You store up sorrows and chastisements for yourself (Proverbs 14:14).
The Way Back from Backsliding
I wish that all backslidden professing Christians would meditate on Revelation 2:4-5. Ephesus is a very zealous Church. They cannot bear with those that are evil, have tried those who said they were apostles and found them liars. They had also borne much with patience. For the name of Christ they had laboured and not fainted. Yet, Christ has a charge against her; she had lost her first love. She was to “remember” where she had fallen from and “repent, and do the first works”. Otherwise, Christ would come quickly and remove her candlestick out of its place. A Church which leaves her first love through gradual decay may provoke God to un-Church her, unless she considers where she has fallen from, repents and does her first works.
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James Durham shows how genuine believers can decline from their first love to Christ, almost without realising it. Reading and meditating on this pamphlet will not just help Christians to understand how “Love within may be cold when people’s outward practice looks very hot”. Believers will also learn how to apply Christ’s remedy for recovering their early love for Him.
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